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Study Ranks American Actors’ British Accents, and Vice Versa

Variety logo Variety 2/28/2017 Dani Levy
© Provided by Variety

Anyone who’s seen “Mary Poppins” knows what a bad Cockney accent sounds like. But for the first time, British actors have ranked Dick Van Dyke’s “mockney” as the worst attempt at a U.K. accent in a pool of the highest grossing films’ leads.

Language-learning app Babbel commissioned ex-pat professional actors from both the UK and US to vote on a five-point scale on how convincing the accents were for leading parts in blockbusters grossing over $100 million.

For the United States accent, American Actors UK awarded British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor a 4.5/5 for his work as Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave.” Tied for second are the DC superheros; Christian Bale as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman both garnered 4.2/5 scores.

Best in show for the Americans attempting the over-the-pond accents, awarded by British Actors in LA, are Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger. Streep’s Margaret Thatcher (4.9/5) in 2011’s “The Iron Lady” was so convincing that her performance earned her an Oscar nom for best actress. In “Shakespeare In Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow plays Shakespeare’s lover Viola de Lesseps, a role deserving of a 4.7/5 score (and an Oscar win). For the titular role of Bridget Jones in the 2001 film, the Oscar-nominated Zellweger was awarded a 4.5/5.

“We thought it would be incredibly interesting to compare accents on either side of the pond,” said Katja Wilde, head of didactics at Babbel. “Given the timing of the cinematic awards season, it made perfect sense to analyze Hollywood’s most famous English and American accents on screen.”

While it’s all fun-and-games for the high scorers, other performers were less successful than their winning counterparts.

Kevin Costner beat out Van Dyke for second worst with 2/5 for his lead in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Van Dyke, as chimney sweep Bert in “Mary Poppins,” got a meager 1.6/5. As bad as it sounds, Wilde “doubt[s] his score will come as a shock to him.” Van Dyke’s joked about the role for years.

Unfortunately for “Twilight” fans, Robert Pattinson’s American accent in the franchise earned him a lesser 3.5/5. Even worse was Kate Winslet in “Titanic,” whose Philadelphian drawl only got a 2.4/5.

“It was a bit difficult to see that Kate Winslet received such a low score of 2.4 out of 5, Wilde added. “Still, despite her lack of mastery, she gave a ravishing performance in one of the most iconic cinematic films of all time.”

See the full results below:

Brits Playing Americans

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in “12 Years A Slave” (2013): 4.5 out of 5

Christian Bale as Batman in “The Dark Knight” (2008): 4.2 out of 5

Henry Cavill as Superman in “The Man Of Steel” (2013): 4.2 out of 5

Emma Watson in “Perks Of Being A Wallflower” (2012): 4.1 out of 5

Clive Owen in “Inside Man” (2006): 4.1 out of 5

Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange” (2016): 3.9 out of 5

John Boyega in “Star Wars The Force Awakens” (2015): 3.7 out of 5

Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl” (2014): 3.5 out of 5

Robert Pattinson in the Twilight franchise: 3.5 out of 5

Kate Winslet in “Titanic” (1997): 2.4 out of 5

Americans Playing Brits

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” (2011): 4.9 out of 5

Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare In Love” (1998): 4.7 out of 5

Renée Zellweger as the title character in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2011): 4.5 out of 5

Robert Downey Jr. as the titular British detective “Sherlock Holmes” (2009): 4.3 out of 5

Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings franchise: 3.8 out of 5

Natalie Portman as Evey in “V for Vendetta” (2005): 3.5 out of 5

Angelina Jolie, as the title character in “Maleficent” (2014): 3.3 out of 5

Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise: 3.0 out of 5

Kevin Costner as the lead in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991): 2.0 out of 5

Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” (1964): 1.6 out of 5

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